Some Obscure Sporting Event
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed that there’s a small sporting event going on at the moment over there in China. A little running, jumping, lifting, punching, tumbling and swimming by a few (thousand) athletic types. Apart from the fact that I subject my body to two weeks of sleep deprivation, the Olympics ranks right up there as one of my all-time fave things. So many stories. So much inspiration. So many examples of people maximising their talent, exploring their boundaries and overcoming adversity… and let’s be completely honest, doing some pretty freaky shit.
As an alleged exercise expert, motivator bloke and Olympic junkie, there are many parallels between life and sport that become apparent to me as I marvel at the uber-athletes doing their thing. Have you noticed how athletes seem to find a way to perform like they never have before at the right time, on the right day, in the right place? Some of them will never perform like that again. Ever. Of course there are many explanations for this, both psychological and physiological. In the world of sport science we call this peaking. That is, preparing and tuning a body to perform optimally on a given day or over a limited period of time.
The athletes show up to Beijing, do what they do, and then they go home. And then they de-tune. Mentally, emotionally and physically. A month after the Olympics many of the athletes we’re watching right now will be very different specimens; fatter, slower, weaker and less focused. Decidedly less ‘Olympian’. Why? Because they will stop doing what they were doing leading up to (and during) the games. They need some down time and/or a drop in intensity in order to recover and avoid burnout, injury and exhaustion.
We Ain’t all Olympians
Unfortunately some of us non-Olympians seem to adopt the process of peaking with our own health and fitness endeavours. But not in a strategic, logical or athletic manner. That is, we spend a lifetime getting in and out of shape. We alternate between fit and fat. In the zone and off the rails. Disciplined and disinterested. Motivated and apathetic. We ignore logic and let our emotions dictate our behaviour. We start things that we know we won’t maintain over the long term. We know what to do but don’t do what we know. Not consistently anyway. We get in shape for events; weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, reunions and even summer (in search of the beach body). And then we get fat again.
From Fat to Fit… and Back to Fat
Years ago I trained a lady for a period of eight weeks leading up to her wedding. She lost about twelve kilos (26.5 lbs) during that time. Over the eight weeks I continually emphasised the need for her new pre-wedding behaviours to become life-long habits rather than some temporary phase. I knew my message was lost and realised that her intention was to peak for her wedding; look amazing on the day. And she did. On the designated day she looked beautiful and slim; just what she wanted. Two days after she returned from her honeymoon (a twelve day cruise) she came to see me. She walked through the door, saw me and started crying. She must have seen the look on my face. She looked like she had eaten her husband! I put her on the scales. She had gained nine kilos (20 lbs) in twelve days!! Quite the effort.
The Problem with Normal
So why did this happen? Well, the obvious explanation is that she simply stopped doing what worked (consistent exercise, quality nutrition, intelligent choices). She got on that boat and ate everything that wasn’t nailed down and did zero exercise. That’s the real-world, practical answer but in order for us to learn from her experience (and hopefully do different), we need to understand the psychology behind her behaviour. While she obviously changed her day to day behaviours for the eight weeks with me, what she hadn’t changed was her attitude and thinking on a deeper level. Consciously she was behaving differently (to look good for her wedding) but subconsciously she couldn’t wait for it all to be over, so she could go back to being ‘normal’. Normal being too much food, too little movement and her unhealthy lifestyle. Simple.
In her mind, the pre-wedding regime with me was always going to be a temporary thing. She never actually intended to create life-long change, she just wanted to look awesome for those photos. And if life was a photo that would have been a good plan. But it isn’t (a photo) and it wasn’t (a good plan). She was peaking for her Olympics. Which just happened to be in a pretty white dress.
Maybe some of us need to stop getting in shape for events and start getting in shape for life.
Just a thought.